Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Not plagiarism: Rand Paul quotes Wikipedia

Rachel Maddow ran a segment about how bad it was for Rand Paul to quote a Wikipedia article on Gattaca. It was bad, of course, because Paul continued the dishonest Republican tradition of treating works of fiction as fact. During the run of 24 Hours, Fox commentators frequently discussed how torture works to extract information from captives because it worked for Jack Bauer, who portrayed torture as normal, effective, acceptable and glamorous. OK, I'm quoting Wikipedia there. But it's not plagiarism.

Paul cited a number of passages from Wikipedia where the omnipotent state uses the analysis of a person's DNA to determine their function in life, a subject covered much more artistically in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. But Paul is using these passages to scare his listeners into believing that such things are now possible, or soon will be. He wants people to believe that our government is omnipotent and dictatorial, like the one in Gattaca. It's not. Paul is using a fictional example of something that doesn't exist--and never will--to attack our actual government falsely.

Paul, as despicable as his purpose might be, is not plagiarizing because he is reviewing the plot from the movie, Gattaca. Paul says at the beginning of his remarks that all these ideas come from the movie, Gattaca. His use of the plot elements are therefore not plagiarism, but fair use. He never pretends that the ideas are his own. 

Maddow showed several passages that Paul had lifted from Wikipedia's description of the movie without giving credit to the source. Wikipedia, however, does not copyright its stories. Much of its historical information comes from encyclopedias, like the Ninth Edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, that are now in the public domain. Wikipedia's stated purpose is to 

Empower and Engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content and either publish it under a free license or dedicate it to the public domain.Disseminate this content effectively and globally, free of charge.

The contents of Wikipedia are covered by a copyright agreement that allows people freely to 

Read and Print our articles and other media free of charge.Share and Reuse our articles and other media under free and open licenses.

When someone gives you permission to share and reuse their work, there cannot be any plagiarism of it.

Maddow should spend her time criticizing the substance of Rand Paul's speeches, not their style.

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